Setting off rockettes

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular, starring the world-famous Rockettes, alighted at the Motor City this past holiday season. Detroit is the third city to host the Rockettes road show, following successful runs in Branson, MO, and Myrtle Beach, SC. A fourth Christmas Spectacular is scheduled to open in Chicago after the Detroit premiere.

"This is the first in a generation of new, bigger shows," states Radio City Christmas Spectacular lighting designer David Agress. Says Agress, who designed the Branson, Myrtle Beach, and Chicago shows, the Detroit edition (booked at the Fox Theatre for the next four years) was a unique opportunity. Rather than use house systems as he did in the past, Agress had free rein to design from scratch. The end result included nearly 200 ETC Source Fours, 26 High End Cyberlights(R), 30 High End Studio Colors(R), nine MR-16 x-rays, 32 Altman T-3 cyc units, 120 Altman PAR-64s, 66 P-36 rainlights, six CITC Little Blizzard snow machines, and two Reel EFX DF-50 hazers.

"In Detroit, we added many more smart lights," Agress says. "You get so much more punch out of them, especially with 13 full-scene production numbers." The moving lights are used primarily for washlight, but programmer Paul Turner, using a Compulite Animator console, created whimsical snowflakes and enormous twinkling star effects.

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular (above) wasn't a particularly easy show to put into the Fox Theatre. Dimensionally, the Fox stage is shallower than all of the previous venues, and had little storage space. So, early last fall, a 40'x 60' (12x18m) bustle was built on the back of the stage, to accommodate the scenic needs of the show. But before the bustle was ever created, the serious meetings had begun.

"We saw the first lighting plot last August," reports Fox Theatre LD Brian Boucher. "We spent a lot of time in pre-production discussing cable runs, power, and distances." Agress found the theatre lacking in line sets, so he created a pit truss and balcony truss to accommodate his lighting needs. The pit truss position was used for five Cyberlights, 12 Studio Colors, and all the snow machines (plus two fans for the offstage snow units). Sixteen 5-degree and 10-degree ETC Source Fours were hung on the balcony truss, which also housed four Cyberlights hung vertically. Powering the balcony truss was something of a challenge, Boucher says. "We decided to set a dimmer position in the spotlight booth to power the balcony truss, which made each cable run 150' (46m) rather than 400' (122m)--the normal distance from the stage dimmers to the spotlight booth."

The main attraction is, of course, the Rockettes themselves, who perform in the Vegas-style holiday extravaganza. How does Agress give them that extra "oomph" the audience expects to see? "By using flattering colors, flattering angles, and keeping them in bright light," he says.